Under the Big Top

This Year's Cirque des Voix Memorably Blends Circus and Music

This year's production takes place this weekend.

By Kay Kipling March 18, 2022

Hand balancer Rokardy performing at the Cirque des Voix dress rehearsal.

Although Key Chorale and the Circus Arts Conservatory have been combining their talents for the “Cirque dex Voix: Circus of the Voices” shows for more than a decade now, I have to admit I’d somehow never seen one of the performances. Technically, I suppose, I still haven’t, since this year’s production, “The Next Decade of Wonder,” opens Friday, March 18, but I did watch a dress rehearsal under the circus Big Top on Wednesday evening that gave me a pretty good idea of how the collaboration works.

It's kind of genius. Circus performers—aerialists, jugglers, trapeze artists and more—have worked with their own chosen background music for years. But there’s more drama—and more sweep to the scores—when you put together the moves the artists make with music supported by the 100 or so voices of Key Chorale and the 30-plus musicians of the Cirque Orchestra, under the direction of Key Chorale artistic director Joseph Caulkins. You see the artists in a different light, and you hear the music—in this case, sometimes from familiar film scores—in a different way, too.

At the dress rehearsal, I didn’t get to see the fire twirling of Matuni Valaoga Jr., which audiences this weekend will see, accompanied by “Wonder Woman’s Wrath” by Rupert Gregson-Williams and “O Fortuna” from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. But the impact of the music on its own was still pretty spine-tingling, so imagine it with fire.

Welsh composer Karl Jenkins’ “Song of the Spirit” (from his Symphonic Adiemus) made a good match for the cloud swing grace of Eve Diamond Feldman, as she seemingly effortlessly dangles from her knees or feet, or twists and turns high above the ground.

"Spiderman" Channing Gross on the Chinese Pole.

Young Channing Gross, a pre-professional student at the CAC’s Sailor Circus Academy, demonstrates what Caulkins calls his “arachnid skills” next, using the Chinese Pole to “stick” like Spiderman backed by the music of Danny Elfman from the 2002 film version. You will wonder how he does it, as he seems able to balance his body any way he wants to while barely hanging on.

There’s more music from Elfman with his very first film score, from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Listening to the orchestra on this one will definitely take you back to the fun and imagination of that movie; it made me want to watch it again.

More film memories are unleashed when aerialist Silvia Dopazo performs on the rope to James Horner’s “Avatar Suite” from that James Cameron film. Her moves are fittingly matched to the music, whether calm and lovely or more agitated in feeling.

You can’t present an evening featuring film scores without including something by John Williams; he’s represented here by his work “The Adventures of Han Solo” from Solo: A Star Wars Story. Then comes Denis Ignatov, performing Cubique, a sort of light show, really, where he dazzles with his manipulation of geometrical shapes. The music here: more Williams, with “Duel of the Fates” (from Star Wars: Phantom Menace), and also “Gothicus,” a piece by Sarasota-born composer Jeff Marsh.

There’s quite a change of pace with the orchestra’s rendition of music from the cult classic French movie The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob, from 1973. The composer, Vladimir Cosma, employed a mix of a 1960-ish pop sound with the more plaintive “laughter through tears” feeling of traditional Jewish music.

Aerial artists Olga Coronas and Holly Legare.

Aerial acrobats Olga Coronas and Holly Legare team up with a performance on a ring, their bodies synchronized together and with the music of “Vanitas Vanitatem” by Dan Forrest. John Ottman’s music from X-Men Apocalypse works for Rokardy, a chair balancer who has been featured on “America’s Got Talent,” as he keeps stacking up the “ladder” of poles he balances atop, ratcheting up the suspense at the same time.

Performances under the Big Top at Nathan Benderson Park take place this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For more info and tickets, call (941) 355-9805 or go to circusarts.org/performances.

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